ON TO KEILDER OBSERVATORY
The reason I had not been able to stay longer in Richmond was that some time ago I booked for an evening at Keilder Observatory, and it was there I was heading today. Although the day was not as beautiful as yesterday there were still far reaching views of the wonderful countryside running along Hadrian’s Wall, and we passed the famous Sycamore Gap, but although the road was good and straight (well it was running along the route the wall was protecting) there was no where to easily stop, so I have borrowed one from
Travelling yesterday I was surprised at how long and straight many of the roads were in such a rural district, but today the penny dropped. Obviously this was a hive of activity in the Roman era and many roads would have been built in order to move troops and supplies around for duties on the Wall.
On the wall itself Education Scotland has this to say
The emperor Hadrian visited Britannia in AD 122 and ordered his generals to build a wall from the Tyne to the Solway, to prevent raiders from the north destroying the strategic Roman base at Corbridge, in Northumberland.
Hadrian’s Wall was 80 Roman miles long - about 73 modern miles or 117 km. It was built in 5 mile stretches, with seventeen forts. Smaller forts called ‘milecastles’ were built every mile and between these were signal turrets.
Building the wall was a huge undertaking; it took 15 years to build, and sons followed fathers into guarding the wall. Eighteen thousand soldiers worked on it, and 4 million tonnes of stone were used. It served as a frontier for several Roman incursions into Caledonia.
Much of Hadrian's Wall was about 10 Roman feet wide - 3m or 9.7 modern feet. It stood about 5 to 6 metres tall (16 to 20 feet). It was about a third wider at the base than it was at the ramparts.
By AD 367 the wall was attacked by an alliance of tribes as part of the ‘Barbarian Conspiracy’. The Roman peace – ‘Pax Romana’ - was restored for a short time, but by AD 400 the Empire which had stretched from Newcastle to the Nile was in crisis and the frontier was abandoned.
Further on I stopped for a coffee, and looking out over the undulating landscape suddenly over the horizon raced a large flock of sheep, which then split, and half the “flock’ swept sharply to their left through a surprised herd of bullocks and one after another jumped over some fencing. Then from the ridge behind them galloping horses appeared, and I realised the split ‘flock’ was in fact hounds which had raced through a flock of sheep. I assume they were drag hunting and the reason the hounds had wheeled abruptly to their left was to avoid the road I was on. I would say nowadays any fox worthy of his cunning would instantly head for the nearest A road, or preferably motorway and that would be last he would see of the hounds for the day.
I will say nothing about fox hunting one way or another as it is an emotive issue on many counts, but it is an abiding memory of my childhood to hear the distant cries of the hounds and the clear note of the horn, then see the hounds and riders streaming over the hilly countryside. For good or ill the music of the hounds and the winding of the horns on crisp winter days is embedded in my mind.
In later years the foxes where I lived had worked out that one of the local farmers would not permit the hunt onto his land, so simply headed for the brook running up the valley in the middle, lost their trail in the waters and left the hounds to hunt merrily up and down it for the day. The weary whipper-in was then seen running on foot alongside the wooded brook, furiously blowing his horn and trying to restore order, but normally to little effect, whilst the riders, forbidden from entering trotted round the circuit of surrounding roadway and bridleway.
But back to the countryside of Northumberland. It is a truly rural and beautiful part of our country, with quiet, sometimes almost deserted roads, traditional farming and wonderful far reaching views. It lifts the heart and refreshes the soul. As one of the folk who live in this county said, “Its still undiscovered, so don’t tell anyone about it.'